People sometimes feel a lot of pressure to return to work before they have fully recovered from their on-the-job injuries, whether that pressure is coming from their employers, company doctors, their families, or themselves. If you’re thinking about returning to work, especially if you don’t feel like you’ve really recovered, here are some things you should know.
Who Decides When I Can Return to Work After I’ve Been Hurt?
Although your employer, your coworkers, and even your friends and family members may have an opinion about when and how you return to your job duties, when it comes to medical issues, listen to doctors you know and trust. Companies are not allowed to push their workers to return to work prematurely after a work injury.
If your doctors tell you not to work due to your injuries, then do not work. Injuries can be deceiving, and patients often feel as though they’re in better shape than they actually are. Make sure that your doctor agrees that you are medically released to go back to work.
If your doctors release you to work on a light duty or other restricted status, then ask your company if they have a position available that fits your restrictions.
Talk openly with your doctor about your current condition, your prognosis, and the impact that returning to work might have on your overall health and recovery. It’s important that you follow your doctor’s recommendations—and pay attention to how you feel. Keep in mind that the decision to return to work after an injury is ultimately up to you.
Is Your Employer Pressuring You to Return to Work Before You’re Ready?
Most large companies have return-to-work policies in place that are focused on minimizing the cost of at-work injuries and returning injured employees to work as soon as possible. As a result, you may have had to start fielding questions, calls, and certified letters about when you can return to work almost as soon as you were hurt. However, employer policies and return-to-work programs don’t always have your wellbeing in mind.
While a company’s return-to-work programs and policies can help injured workers transition back to work, they can also be used to take advantage of employees who don’t understand their rights. Even though you may still be in a lot of pain or unable to perform daily tasks, the company representatives you talk to may seem set on finding ways to make sure you’re back at work before you’re ready. If your employer is ignoring or twisting medical recommendations to get you back to work before you’re ready, it should be a major red flag that you need help.
Threats and Employer Retaliation
Keep in mind that, even when they go back to work, injured workers sometimes return to an unwelcoming environment, uncalled-for pay cuts, and threats of retaliation for pursuing a work injury claim. However, this kind of retaliation is generally against the law. If your employer is pressuring you to return before you are medically ready or threatening to fire you, you should speak with your attorney about your rights. Returning to work before you have recovered has the potential to worsen your injuries and hurt your injury claim – and your employer is well aware of this.
Will it Hurt My Case If I Go Back to Work?
This is a fair question to ask, but it's typically directly dependent on sound medical advice. What that means is that, if you are physically fit to work, then you should work. If you are not, then you shouldn’t until you are. While jurors can never award you for wages you did not lose, they will not award you for being lazy, either.
It is true that if you go back to work, you actively diminish some or all of your lost wages moving forward. However, it will affect your credibility if a jury learns that you felt fine, a trustworthy doctor approved you to go back to work, and you chose not to go back to work or get a second opinion. That fact—rightly or wrongly—may negatively affect a lot more than your lost wages. Ultimately, not telling the truth about your recovery can seriously damage your claim, whether you’re minimizing your injuries or exaggerating their impact.
Why You Might Consider a Second Opinion About Your Return to Work
No one except your doctor can tell you when you’re fit to go back to work—not your employer, not your attorney, etc. Before you take his or her advice, though, make sure that you trust your medical doctor. If your gut instinct tells you that your doctor’s advice is suspect, seek a second opinion from a doctor you can trust. If you feel your doctor is more interested in what your company representative says than you what you say, that’s your heart telling you to get a second opinion. If you simply can’t understand your doctor, that’s your mind telling you to get a second opinion. Likewise, if you truly feel like your injury is much more intense than your doctor has acknowledged, then that’s your body telling you to get a second opinion. Trust your body, mind, and soul. Even if you have a trustworthy doctor who has approved you to go back to work, that’s what you need to do.
While your company’s medical staff may be very good at what they do, they will likely be influenced by the people who pay their wages. They may tell you your injuries are less serious than they are to avoid a lawsuit, or encourage you to return to work too early. There is also no way that an on-staff doctor can know every outcome of every specific injury a worker may suffer. Your injury may require surgery or specialist care, which your company’s physician is unlikely to provide.
You deserve to be treated by a doctor who has only your personal health and wellbeing in mind—not the wellbeing of your company. If you’re seeing only company-approved medical professionals, or if you don’t feel comfortable with the physician you are seeing, a neutral second opinion can be a great help. However, don’t be tempted to seek a second opinion simply because your doctor has cleared you to return to work. If you are physically ready to return, seeking a second opinion could damage your work injury claim later on.
Get Answers to Your Questions About Returning to Work After an Injury
If you have serious questions about your work injury case or feel pressured to return to work before you are ready, don’t wait any longer to get serious answers about your legal rights and avoid mistakes that may hurt your injury claim. Our attorneys have helped injured workers and their families in Houston and across the nation stand up to multinational corporations. If you need a second opinion on your medical condition, we have built a network of trusted medical professionals that can help.
Contact us today for a 100% free legal consultation to discuss your situation and start getting the answers you need to protect yourself and your family.